In an attempt to thwart the so-called swine flu virus, Athens and Limestone County schools are cleaning, advising parents and emphasizing hand washing as the school year enters its third week.

Two weeks into the school year, city and county schools have been free of the novel H1N1 influenza, commonly referred to as swine flu, but one county school system in Alabama closed Thursday due to H1N1 flu absences.

State health officials announced Friday that routine testing for the H1N1 virus is no longer necessary because patients with flu-like symptoms most likely have the H1N1 virus, the Associated Press reported.

As of Wednesday, Alabama had 1,298 confirmed cases of novel H1N1 influenza, bringing the total number of probable and confirmed cases in the state to 1,314. Three of the cases occurred in Limestone County over the past year.

Novel H1N1, a new influenza virus, was first detected in the United States in April 2009.

Two people statewide have died of the virus.

To combat H1N1 influenza, Athens City Schools have been cleaning and disinfecting during the summer, emphasizing proper hand washing, cautioning students and parents to stay away from people who are ill and advising parents to make sure their child remains temperature-free for 24 hours before returning them to school, said Superintendent Dr. Orman Bridges Jr. He said city schools are also monitoring absenteeism.

Both city and county school officials plan to meet next week with the local Emergency Management Agency and the Alabama Department of Public Health on flu vaccine.

“We have constantly been updating our local school administrators and local school nurses with information we have received from CDC and ADPH,” said Assistant Superintendent Mike Owens. “All teachers know to be watchful, to stress good hygiene and to stay on guard with regard to any flu symptoms. The local school custodial staff is working to make certain all areas — classrooms, restrooms, drinking fountains, etc., are cleaned several times throughout the school day. We are reminding parents that the CDC recommends people with flu-like illness remain at home until at least 24 hours after they are free of fever.”

State Health Officer Dr. Don Williamson said Friday that more than 99 percent of all samples tested during the past four weeks were positive for H1N1 flu, the AP reported.

Williams said health officials are putting in place a statewide system where the department will receive samples from each county every week, and the state lab’s limited capacity means the agency is restricting testing to hospitalized patients, pregnant women and certain others, the AP said.

CDC has determined novel H1N1 virus is contagious and is spreading from human to human, probably in much the same way that regular seasonal influenza viruses spread, although it remains unknown how easily this novel H1N1 virus spreads.

Macon County Schools closed for two days Thursday because of numerous absences due to H1N1. The Tuskegee-based system closed schools at 1 p.m. and plans to reopen Monday, according to the AP.

State health official Jim McVay said the health department didn’t recommend the closure but is leaving those decisions up to individual school districts, the AP reported.

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